UN expert to probe reported Israeli drone attacks

Investigation to focus on UAV strikes in Gaza, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia; Israel not expected to cooperate

An Israeli 'Ethan' drone, in the service of the Israeli Air Force (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
An Israeli 'Ethan' drone, in the service of the Israeli Air Force (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A United Nations expert is launching an independent investigation into drone attacks in Africa and the Middle East, including tackling Israel’s reported use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, British lawyer Ben Emmerson, said Thursday that he would probe the use of lethal force by drones in places where the the US, British and Israeli militaries are active.

According to foreign media reports, Israel has used drones in the past to carry out strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel does not admit to using drones in military strikes and is not expected to cooperate with the probe, according to Haaretz.

Emmerson said the investigation followed complaints by a number of UN members regarded civilian casualties from drone deaths, and would look at creating an international standard for their use.

“The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay, and its use in theaters of conflict is a reality with which the world must contend,” he said. “It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law.”

The main focus of the investigation will be 25 reported drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, he said.

No Israelis or Palestinians were listed among the experts who will help prepare the report, and Emmerson did not say he would visit Israel or the Palestinian territories.

Emmerson listed the US, UK, Pakistan and Yemen as countries he expected to cooperate with the probe, but did not mention Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

The probe does not have official backing from UN chief Ban Ki-moon or UN human rights czar Navi Pillay, according to Foreign Policy blog Turtle Bay, but Emmerson launched it after receiving complaints from member states China, Russia and Pakistan.

He is expected to present his findings to the UN General Assembly in the fall.

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